AS IF THERE WILL BE NO DELUGE…

10 05 2009

A number of bits of local news and commentary have come to my attention lately:  Mayor Dean’s “State of the City” address, the report of the Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable Nashville, news that the “reform” of Tennessee’s waste management policies is not only a shambles but a sham, and the renewed push for construction of Maytown Center, along with the howls of misguided (or intentionally misleading) protest that accompanied my characterization of its neo-feudal potential last month.

Hizzoner the Mayor used his moment in the spotlight to push for a new Nashville Convention Center, a sort of “build it and they will come,” Hail Mary pass proposal that has been so thoroughly excoriated by the Nashville Scene that I hardly need to go into detail here, except to answer their “what are they smoking?” question with, “must be crack, ’cause any self-respecting pot smoker would see through this welfare-for-developers proposal in a minute.”  I would also add that anybody who thinks any kind of tourism is going to make a comeback is inhaling the wrong kind of smoke.  The only big influx that I see in Nashville’s, or America’s, future, is Chinese and various Middle Easterners coming to repossess whatever they can in consideration of America’s unrepayable debt to them.  The “T” in “T-bills” is gonna stand for “toilet paper,” boys and girls.  Can you say “Confederate money”?

And, speaking of smoking crack, I have to repeat and re-emphasize that anyone who thinks Maytown Center is going to be good for Nashville is still living in the delusionary world of the Bush era.  Growth is over.  If it is built, Maytown will either rapidly turn into a ghost town or suck the air out of the rest of the city and become a gated version of downtown, so the upper crust doesn’t have to cross paths with the homeless.

We would be much better off using the energy that the city’s movers and shakers are putting into these mirages to fast-track and expand some of the proposals in the Green Ribbon Committee’s report, which is at least well-intentioned, if woefully under-ambitious.  I feel bad about having to say that.  I know some of the people on the Committee, and I trust their good will. I went to one of their public meetings, and I think the document they have produced is radical and edgy–for 1975.  At this point, it is too little, too late.    Can we create a sustainable local economy that will support our current population?  Can we produce enough hoes and digging forks for everybody to turn up the ground it will take to keep ourselves in potatoes, let alone manufacture  our own shoes and clothing? Ain’t none of that happening here in Nashvegas any more, — how many weavers and cobblers are there in this town?  We sold our industrial capacity to the Chinese for a mess of profit, and we are about to find out that money is nothing but funny-looking paper once everybody agrees it’s worthless.

The landfill proposals that so outrage my friends at BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) are another head-shaker, another high-stakes poker game, played with a marked deck, in the tilting first-class lounge of the Titanic.  Of course, as James Howard Kunstler points out in World Made By Hand, all the recyclables we stick in landfills now are a kind of savings account that we will be able to mine in coming decades, when we will be out of natural resources and the ability to acquire them through commerce, and will have nothing better to do than dig up old city dumps, straighten bent nails, melt down and recast plastic and metal, and treasure the one or two chemists in our city who figure out how to make matches from local materials–because all those disposable lighters we take for granted are gonna be a thing of the past in the future, folks.  Do I have to remind you that you are going to have to cook with a wood fire, unless you’re lucky enough to have a solar cooker and a sunny day? And where will you be gathering your firewood?

Oh, and speaking of rigged poker games on the Titanic, our newly-Republican legislature is attempting to make sure that we don’t switch to optical-scan voting machines in time for the next election, presumably so they can rig it more easily, since they are doing such a patently bad job of running the state that they know they won’t be able to win an honest election…not that the Dims would be much better, it’s just a question of who controls what’s left of the state’s treasury.   Well, OK…the Dims would be doing nothing instead of forbidding local living wage laws, allowing people to carry guns everywhere and restricting abortion rights. “Respect for human life”? HELLO?

As all the various antics listed above indicate, either both parties are clueless about the scope of what we’re in for in this country, or they are figuring the best way to survive is to cut as many people out of the loop as possible.  If national politics are any guide, I would say the Repuglyicans are trying to cut as many of us out of the loop as they can (leaving more goodies for themselves), and the Dim-ocrats are simply clueless.  In this state, most seem to think the best strategy is to try and be as conservative as the Repugs, but since they lack the intense commitment to self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many Repugs, they end up coming across as clueless namby-pambys, which is one reason (besides ignorance and its bastard child, racism) they have been fluffing so many elections lately–like, it wasn’t just that Harold Ford is black, it’s that he’s barely to the left of Bob Corker. Not only is Harold no Jesse Jackson, he’s not even a Barack Obama.

Let me make something clear here–I  am as threatened as anyone by the future I foresee.  Western civilization as we know it needs to end for the planetary ecosystem (including humans) to continue, and I, an aging man with health problems, may not survive the change.  With that in mind, I want to make that transition as smooth as I can, so I am living as simply as I can, and supporting organizations that I believe will help cushion our descent, like our local bioregional council and the Tennessee Green Party.  As long as we have a functioning statewide political system (and I am not going to hazard a guess on how long that may be), we need to take advantage of it and use the framework of the Green Party to raise real issues:  local sustainability, resource conservation, universal access to health care, economic justice, and grass-roots democracy, to name the first few broad headings that come to mind.  There is SO much to do, and we’re  running the Green Party of Tennessee with a skeleton crew–so come on aboard, there’s plenty of room.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable





NASHVILLE’S AGENDA

8 04 2007

I was recently reading the latest issue of one of Nashville’s minor newspapers, The Nashville Pride, which comes to my residence weekly, bearing the name of a woman who has not lived at our address for at least twenty-five years, since my wife and her first husband bought the place. I don’t know what Helen Hickenlooper did to deserve a lifetime-and-then-some subscription to this paper, but I am grateful to her (or to the paper’s subscription department) for a window into black Nashville. Yes, the Nashville Pride is a newspaper for the ethnic black community in this town—I bet you thought it was for gays, right? Nope, “Say it loud I’m black and I’m proud” predates Stonewall, folks.

The paper also serves as a window into black Nashville’s view of the city as a whole, and sometimes it features stories that don’t get a whole lot of traction in other papers in the city. Such is the case with a story about an organization called “Nashville’s Agenda” which is currently seeking input about…Nashville’s civic agenda for the next ten years or so. The newspaper story directed me to a website, “Nashvillesagenda.org,”which gave me a little background on the organization and invited me to take a survey that asked me to rate certain predetermined priorities, invited me to short essay-type answers, and occasionally asked me to fill in the blanks or make multiple choices. After taking the test, I thought it would be a good subject for a story, and I was delighted to find my answers still displayed on the website when I revisited it, because that made it much easier for me to write this story.

A little history first—the original “Nashville’s Agenda” group formed in the early nineties, and its surveys of Nashville showed a strong desire for affordable housing, a performing arts center, and more professional sports teams. Well, two out of three ain’t bad—either the two out of three of asking for affordable housing and a performing arts center, both of which are good things, or the two out of three of actually getting a performing arts center and several professional sports teams, the latter of which we need in this town like we needed the thermal plant downtown or coal heat. Well, coal heat and the thermal plant are history, so maybe we can get rid of the professional sports teams and go back to entertaining ourselves and spreading the wealth around enough to have more affordable housing. But, I digress…..

The steering committee of the current Nashville’s Agenda reads like a who’s who of this town, with representation from the Frist Center, TSU, Vanderbilt, The Urban League, Metro government, big business, one “psychologist,” and a host of other moving and shaking agencies in town. Actually, the Frist Center came into existence partially because of the influence of the first Nashville’s Agenda group, and partially because the Frist health care empire had sucked so much blood, I mean money, out of the people of Tennessee that they didn’t know what to do with it all and figured they could get a tax break by creating a foundation and a museum. My main beef about that is, that as ill-gotten as the Frists’ gains are, they should pay us to visit their museum, instead of the other way ’round. But, I digress again…..

The survey opens with the question, “What do you think have been the biggest changes in Nashville in the last 6-8 years? List the three most important.” I wrote down, 1)more diverse ethnic population;
2)more corporate; 3)more gentrified. The first of those is a good thing. I think it is good for us to have many different cultures co-existing in this town. I like occasionally going into a grocery store with really different produce, a grocery store where not only can I not read the labels on the food containers, I can’t even recognize the letters in the alphabets they’re using, and the music on the loudspeakers is in a language I don’t understand. And, I’m the only Caucasian in the joint. We Americans are a very small minority in this world, but we have been isolated over here on our own continent for far too long. I am in no hurry for these people to adopt our language and customs.

But—more corporate, and more gentrified. These go hand in hand, in many ways. My own experience of this came from having lived in the last hippie house in what used to be a downscale, countercultural neighborhood, and from having worked in the corporate successor to Nashville’s premier locally owned health food store, the late and much lamented Sunshine Grocery. There aren’t any decent low-rent locations any more, whether for folks living on the cheap or for someone trying to start up a business, and it’s hard to find a business niche that doesn’t have several corporate bodies vying for supremacy already, with more resources and deeper pockets than a local guy can muster. When I look at the future of Nashville, I think I see the transnational corporate web falling apart, or at least becoming sporadic and unreliable, and I think there will be a rise in local people providing for their neighborhoods—as repairfolk, permanent yard/garage sales, garden- and prepared-food providers, you name it. The local economy is going to have to come back bigtime, and those who have built large, expensive, energy-demanding retail spaces are going to be struggling to make their payments. Today the subprime lenders, tomorrow the whole economy, folks.

The next question was,  What do you think are going to be the biggest problems or challenges facing Nashville over the next 5-10 years? Not surprisingly, I answered, “decreasing fuel supplies, more tenuous food supplies, scarcity of affordable consumer goods and services, decreasing employment opportunities, lower tax revenues coupled with increased needs and demand for services“ I will be curious to find out if I am the only one thinking this way—I will also be curious to find out if I’m right. I’d kinda rather not be, y’know?

The obvious mate to this was, “If you could pick one thing for the city’s government, business, and other leadership to work on, to make Nashville the best it can be, what would it be?” To which I replied, “local self-sufficiency.”

The next thing the survey asked me to do was to “rate the city’s progress” on a number of issues. This got interesting. How was “progress” being defined? What did some of the short phrases describing the “issues” really mean? It’s hard to nuance rating these things numerically, know what I mean? How are you going to rate the city schools? Is it really a failure if they’re not coming up to the “No Child Left Behind” standards, when “No Child Left Behind” is a completely wrongheaded way to structure and measure educational quality?

What am I to make of a one-word phrase like, “Seniors”? Is it good if there are more distractions for older Nashvilleans, especially if there aren’t more real things for them to involve themselves in? There were a couple dozen of these phrases, and I’m not going to give a line-by-line commentary on all of them, but let me hit a couple of highlights:

Youth (programs, help, employment, drugs)” is one category. The economy is changing so fast that it’s hard to teach kids specific employment skills anymore. They’re even outsourcing legal research to India these days. What’s gonna be left? Kids need to be taught how to think for themselves, how to solve problems, and how to get along with each other. There are a few programs in town that do that, but by and large our educational/youth services system is oriented towards teaching kids to be good sheep—or is it good lemmings? Well, that’s easier for administrators to deal with. Who wants a bunch of kids thinking for themselves?

And as far as the drug issue goes, I think the current boom in meth, crack, and prescription drug problems is due to the fact that Metro, state, and federal authorities have been entirely too successful in breaking up local marijuana growing operations. I know adults who are having a hard time finding good weed, and it must be even worse for kids who can’t afford two hundred dollar quarters. More marijuana in this town would help everybody relax, light a lot of inspirational lamps in people’s heads, and help us envision a brighter future for Nashville. Oh dear, I’m digressing again….

Another issue that rang a lot of bells for me was “Transportation (traffic, congestion, public transportation, alternative transportation)” I am fortunate in that I rarely have to drive in rush hour traffic in this town, but I often listen to the radio during rush hour, and I often wonder why we accept the fact that, nearly every day, there is at least one major traffic tieup in this town, all too often due to accidents which all too often involve injuries or fatalities. I think about a friend of mine who lives near a spot on I65 that is a frequent traffic jam site. My friend has asthma, and he frequently has attacks at rush hour, when thousands of cars are sitting there, idling on the freeway just a few yards from his home. People, what is wrong with this picture?

My own commute involves crossing from one side of town to another very early in the morning, when the buses run hourly, if at all. If I could get to work on time by bus, it might take me an hour rather than the twenty minute drive I currently navigate. Clearly, we need to not only beef up public transportation, but create incentives for people to use it, and maybe even incentives for people to switch jobs or homes so they don’t have to commute so far. If the chain grocery just a couple of miles from my home sold enough organic produce so that I didn’t feel like I was shilling for chemical agriculture by working there, I could switch jobs and bicycle to work. We’ve gotta start looking at these things.

After “rating progress” I was asked to “prioritize” pretty much the same list of issues. One important addition to this list was “waste management,” to which I gave a very high priority. “Reduce, re-use, recycle,” has got to become everyone’s mantra. Nashville currently recycles an embarrassingly small percentage of its waste, as if all this plastic, metal and glass grew on trees every year instead of being a one-shot deal, dug out of the ground and refined at great expense.

Then came another essay question:”What else would you like Nashville’s leaders to think about as they work to set Nashville’s agenda for the next 5-10 years?” I replied, “peak oil, global warming, community participation, Nashville’s ability to feed and otherwise provide for itself in a global economy and ecology that will be breaking down with increasingly devastating consequences.” I hope they really get the part about community participation. We need to empower people to figure out their own solutions, because imposed solutions, no matter how intelligent, will just be perceived as a set of rules to be broken if they are not created with the enthusiastic participation of everyone involved.

Then another essay question: What action would you suggest to community leaders on any of the issues which interest you? I suggested: “quit allowing housing developments that will depend on private automobiles to be viable, ramp up public transportation, encourage local agriculture (including allowing people to keep chickens in their backyards), encourage local manufacturing, preserve open space, encourage solar and wind energy production, don’t fall into the ethanol/biodiesel trap—it’s not a viable fuel source.” One recent example of local governments unnecessarily getting in the way of alternate energy generation is Belle Meade’s initial refusal to allow Al Gore to put solar panels on his house, and their subsequent restriction of those panels to roof areas that will not be visible from the ground. Hey! Wake up over there! As for ethanol and biodiesel, I’ve said plenty already—but I would have to add to the evidence a recent report that Indonesia’s rain forests will, at current rates, be completely gone to palm oil plantations in another fifteen years, to the great detriment of the planet and our CO2 balance.

That’s pretty much it for the survey. I encourage those of you who live in Nashville to contribute to it, and to attend the public meetings that will be held this month to promote discussion of the near future in Nashville. You can find their times and locations, and the survey, at
www.nashvillesagenda.org. They’re asking our opinions—how often does that happen? Let ’em know what you think, friends.

music: Laurie McClain, “This Old Town





OUT WITH THE OLD?

14 01 2007

One of the things I remember most clearly about my first visit to Nashville, thirty-five years ago, was seeing an outhouse in the back yard of a home about a mile south of downtown. I don’t know if it was still used—in fact, I doubt that it was; but that’s a keynote for the Nashville that used to be. I remember when Old Hickory Boulevard’s southern loop was a rolling two-lane road through fields and woods, and friends of mine lived in the funky, low-rent neighborhood that used to stand where Vanderbilt’s athletic fields now lie. My wife went horseback riding on the old railroad bed that is now I-440. It was a great place for a kid to have adventures.

All that’s gone now, and it ain’t coming back. What is left of an older, slower, less crowded Nashville must be consciously and conscienciously preserved from the economic fundamentalists who understand no value that is not short-term financial. The latest example of this is a proposal to build a 19-story hotel/condominium in the middle of Nashville’s historic lower Broadway district, with a thin veneer of historic facade left on Broadway to preserve the appearance of preservation. The proponents of this building say it has to be that big in order to pay back the money they are laying out for the land.

Now, I am not a devotee of the religion of economics, as most of our politicians are, but, like the devil, I know how to quote scriptures when it serves my purposes. So, let’s look at some economic facts about this proposal and its context that, I think, have not been seriously enough considered in the debate.

First, let’s look at the developer’s claim that he needs to build a nineteen-story building on this site to repay his investment. It turns out that Westin paid “several times the going rate” for the property, according to the Nashville Tennessean, in an article citing Metro Historic Commission Director Ann Roberts. Ms. Roberts pointed out that this inflation of property values is likely to have a domino effect, raising assessments, taxes, and rents in the neighborhood, and making it financially much more difficult for the small businesses—music stores and cheap bars—that give lower Broadway its character. Now, I am not a big fan of cheap bars, but I believe people who want to engage in relatively harmless behavior ought to have place to do what they like to do, and I’m a great believer in locally owned businesses, so I don’t think it would make Nashville a better city to start to undermine this reason for people to go downtown. Opryland couldn’t make it, but lower Broadway is still functioning as a tourist destination, so why mess with it? Setting a precedent by granting this variance will just open the door to more exceptions, and there goes the neighborhood—which is kind of a funny thing to say about a semi-red light district, but I think there’s a time and a place for everything. Lower Broadway is honky-tonksville, and it should be allowed to stay that way.

OK, the tourist thing—I have strong doubts about the long-term viability of tourism as a revenue source. I think that over the next ten or twenty years, it’s going to get harder for people to move around, because the infrastructure is going to go downhill. We will see higher fuel prices, poorer roads, no money to develop large-scale public transportation—and fewer people will have the financial means to undertake travel of any sort—including business travel. The backers of this hotel are also backers of a new, larger convention center here in town, a project which I think is also sadly misguided. Nobody wants to look at the long-term trends, because they’re so scary. It is not going to be business as usual any more, people, and it’s time to drop the denial and get ready for a future that’s going to be local and hands-on rather than global and high-tech. That’s what I think. I’ve been hollering about peak oil and climate change for a long time, now, and you’ve had to admit those wild-eyed hippie visions turned out to be on the money, after you blew me off for so long. Those were just topic sentences. Now, take a deep breath and start paying attention to the details. “Think globally, act locally,” right? Well, this is the local skinny. Heads up!

Now, it turns out that the Westin project is one of at least five new hotels planned for the downtown area. Five or more new hotels. Now, the local hotel biz has actually been pretty good lately, even without Opryland, with occupancy rates running high and a going average price of about $125 per night per person, but I think five more luxury hotels might just saturate the market, even at our current level of prosperity.

I am a member of the economic class that finds the idea of paying $125 a night for a place to sleep, shower, and stash my suitcase simply bizarre. Unfortunately for the builders of the Westin, my kind of people are on the increase in this country, and their clientele is barely managing to reproduce itself, let alone grow. Where do they think all these rich suckers are gonna come from? They’re waving around impressive revenue and tax projections, but they will have no money without people to spend it, and I think they’re living in a deluded dream if they think the future is going to be just like the past. The roller coaster does not go up and up forever, guys. Don’t the dark, closed carcasses of Planet Hollywood and the NASCAR Cafe tell you anything? The party’s over. Do you think I’m a jerk for saying this? Too bad. We need to be thinking very differently about preserving Nashville if we’re going to have a liveable city in another twenty or thirty years.

The first thing we need to do is to encourage urban and suburban gardening, especially projects that feed more people than just the gardeners. Tax credits for vegetable gardens, guys. And let’s repeal the zoning ordinances that prohibit people from keeping household livestock. Yeah, feedlots suck, but if folks want milk and eggs they oughta be able to keep a cow or goat and a few chickens around without getting hassled. And, while we’re relaxing zoning laws, let’s not be so fussy about the home/business divide. Making it easier for people to work at home cuts down on automobile traffic and increases neighborhood cohesion. And parking lots…we got too much parking space in some parts of this town. I look at that colossus by the river and all the flat space around it, and I think, “Cumberland River bottomland….used ta be fertile as a foot up a bull’s ass ( as an old Tennessee farmer I knew liked to say)…how ’bout some farmland restoration?”

Professional sports is such a waste of time and energy. Excuse me, do I sound like a hopeless Puritan? No, I just appreciate direct pleasure more than voyeurism. If you like football, get out and play football, dammit, don’t sit on your fat ass and watch somebody else do the work for you. But, I digress.

I will give the Westin developers some points for green building design, but green building design, for me, has to include the context of the building, and this proposal is out of context. If they want to try their luck with a 19-story hotel near downtown Nashville, there are other locations, some very close to this site, that wouldn’t hang anybody up. And that overpriced land they bought? Caveat emptor, as the Romans used to say. And good luck. It’s a free market, guys. Nobody guaranteed you a profit.

music:  James McMurtry, “The Old Part of Town





ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

8 04 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled a small envelope out of my mailbox. It came from friends of mine, people to whom I owe a favor, and I expected that this letter was going to be about cashing in on the time I had promised them—odd, I thought, why didn’t they just call? But that wasn’t what it was about, at all. I had received an invitation, an invitation to a”meet-the-candidate” party. The candidate was Amanda McClendon, a Metro Council member who is running for a civil court judge’s position. I knew very little about what a civil court judge does, nothing about Amanda McClendon, and nobody I knew had ever invited me to their house to meet a political candidate. I mean, most politicians would see fraternizing with the likes of me as the kiss of death. It’s been a long time since Jimmy Carter posed in that “Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band” t-shirt. Of course, Ms. McClendon wasn’t doing the inviting, my friends were, and my buddy is about as disreputable looking as I am….anyway, after initially pooh-pooing the idea of spending a warm Sunday afternoon in early spring indoors in the gritty heart of Nashville, I succumbed to the lure of the unknown and RSVP’d.

It had been a while since I’d been to my friends’ home but it wasn’t hard to find— the three Amanda McClendon yard signs made it easy. I was one of the first people there, and so I got to know some of the other guests while we waited for the guest of honor. There was a woman whose name was familiar to me because I get email from her a lot—she’s one of the mainsprings of “Gathering to Save Our Democracy,” a listserve for people campaigning for verifiable paper ballot voting. (That should be a nobrainer, but Bush’s magnanimously (and deceptively) titled “Helping America Vote Act” was intended to push the country into non-verifiable, hackable, touch-screen voting. Fortunately, enough people have noticed this so that the movement has quite a bit of traction, nationwide. I am cheered by this, friends, and let me tell you, not much cheers me these days—but, I digress.)

Another was a Vanderbilt professor who is doing research into non-drug approaches to treating ADHD. For some reason, he has not been able to get any funding for this. He was fun to talk to. His wife is Ms. McClendon’s campaign manager, and, I found out later, also a Vanderbilt professor. A very distinguished, twinkly older gentleman and his much younger wife entered, greeted as friends by the other people in the room. Li’l ole produce clerk here was in a league far removed from my usual haunts, but I had come for something different, and this was that already, even without the candidate. Gee, I thought, if I hadn’t jumped the academic ship and gone off to chop wood and carry water, I’d be one of these people. I was relieved when my friends Earl and Joan arrived; I was no longer totally among strangers (our hostess was busy with food prep and her hippie husband was down in New Orleans doing volunteer relief work, bless his heart).

We had not been waiting long when the candidate arrived. I discovered that this was not going to be what I had thought—she was not there to give a speech, she just sat down with us, and noshed on hors-d’ouevres and took part in the ongoing conversation. But hey, her campaign slogan is, “Listening to you.” Not “talking to you.” I think that’s a good attitude for a politician to have—after all, they’re our employees. No matter how much money lobbyists wave at ’em, we’re the ones who pay their salaries. Not that anyone’s going to be lobbying Ms. McClendon for anything much as a civil court judge. She probably gets a lot more of that in her current position on Metro Council, where she heads the finance committee, and has been an advocate for putting a new baseball stadium downtown.

Prodded by our hostess, I finally started asking Ms. McClendon some questions. The first thing I found out is what I’ve already told you—she’s running for a civil, not a criminal, judgeship, which means she would be dealing mostly with lawsuits, probate cases , divorces, and similar matters that end up in court because private individuals can’t agree. “I enjoy probate cases,” she said. She’s been a practicing lawyer for over twenty years. I think you’d have to be a lawyer to say you like probate cases!

“Do you think the adversarial nature of our court system gets in the way of”–I started to ask her.

“Finding out the truth?” she finished for me. “Yes, it certainly does. All too often, I’ve seen that money gets results. I’d like to set up classes to help people who plan to act as their own lawyers, and have a real small claims court that would exclude lawyers.”

“What do you think of mediation?” I asked her.

“It’s been hijacked by the lawyers, who have made it more expensive than going to court, because both sides have to have their lawyers, and then you have to hire another lawyer to be the mediator.”

“From what you’ve said, I gather you wouldn’t be partial to SLAPP suits?” I asked. An activist friend of mine who had been sued by the polluting company he was exposing had requested that I sound her out on this.

She looked puzzled. “What’s a SLAPP suit?” she asked.

“A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” I explained. “It’s when a lawbreaking company sues the activists who are trying to expose it, in order to tie them up in court and weigh them down with legal expenses.”

Wonder of wonders, a woman who had been part of that action walked into the room right at that moment, and proceeded to explain the situation in far greater detail than I knew. And Ms. McClendon listened, asked good questions, and, I think, learned quite a bit, as did we all. It was a great story, and well told, but its substance is unfortunately not really relevant to what I’m talking about here. Ms. McClendon, although obviously interested, said that cases like that were not likely to show up in her court. I appreciated her honesty. She didn’t try to b.s. us, she just gave us the relevant facts. As I understand the rules of this radio station, I can’t endorse candidates, but I will tell you I like Amanda McClendon.

So, what’s the “Deep Green Perspective” on this?

It’s easy to fall way back and dig the big picture, but the closer you get to daily life, the blurrier the distinctions become. As a Metro Council member and a civil court judge, Ms. McClendon is serving deep in the nitty-gritty, at the base of the political pyramid, where any political party worthy of the name has to have its roots. Forget about national office. Forget about state office. How do the Green Party’s ten key values apply to neighborhood zoning issues? How does a Green judge run a divorce court? When we have individuals who are willing and able to answer these questions, we will begin to be a serious political party. When people hear and appreciate those individuals and respond with their votes, and put us into office, we will begin to be a movement to be reckoned with.

I don’t mean to demean my brothers and sisters who are running for state and national office this year, because I think they are the best hope we have right now for spreading our values. I believe that the ten key values of the Green Party are infectious. I think they are ideas that make such good sense that anyone who hears them with an open mind will say, “Yeah!”

I mean, what’s to argue with about grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics and economic justice, feminism and gender equity, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus and sustainability? Now, as I was saying, how does that apply to divorce and probate court? I humbly submit that it takes someone smarter than me to answer that question.

Maybe I should have been prepared to present the matter to Ms. McClendon—but that’s a lot to get into when you’ve barely been introduced. I guess I’ll just have to share this with her and see how—or if—she responds. Stay tuned.

music: Roseanne Cash, “This World”





A PENNY-ANTE FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

15 09 2005

There’s a special election in Nashville this week over whether to raise the sales tax another half cent on the dollar to pay for improvements in the school system, or what the tax’s proponents call improvements in the school system. When it comes to public schools, I tend to agree with H.L. Mencken, who asserted that the aim of public education “is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” (Thanks to Adbusters Magazine for that), but as a somewhat practical guy I have to admit that most people in America right now are not living lives in which they could organize their children’s education from scratch, and so public school, like the Democratic party, is a necessary evil.

And, speaking of evils, Tennessee’s tax system is disgusting. A sales tax of nearly ten percent and no income tax is about as regressive as it gets. The state might as well hire special police to shake down poor people. Wait—we do that already—it’s called “the lottery.” I think it’s ludicrous to load the sales tax up like this.

But on the other hand, it’s a half cent per dollar, another nickel on ten dollars, an extra fifty cents on a hundred dollars. If you spend two hundred dollars a week on taxable items, (I don’t) you will be contributing an extra fifty-two dollars a year to Nashville city schools, an extra fifteen cents every day. You know and I know that we can spare that kind of change—so why fuss? The principle? “Sales taxes are regressive—no more?” That certainly resonates–but what about the principle of generosity—the schoolteachers in our community—and a great many of them are idealistic about teaching children—they certainly aren’t in it for the money—would appreciate another fifteen cents a day from me—why turn down such a modest request?

Caught between two principles, I’m still making up my mind.








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